Attention to design detail is clearly important to Inkerman & Blunt, also recently the publisher of Australian Love Poems. Captives does not disappoint. Sadly, the design is this book’s most enduring quality.
Flash, micro, or sudden fiction has become a popular genre for writers and readers alike. Its demands on the writer are fierce: plot, dialogue, setting and character must be cut back to their essence. In many ways microfiction resembles prose poetry, where the emotional and physical qualities of a story are made luminous and set within the borders of essential language. The best writers of microfiction understand and celebrate these constraints. Angela Meyer’s stories feel flat and often forced. They lack musicality, and many of the sentences are badly written, the syntax awkward.
From the story “Brand New”, about a man with Alzheimer’s: “He, still in his seventies, has a seizure now and then, though nothing like when he was young.” And: “...if he ever suffered over something, y’know, he didn’t suffer long.” If this were an intentional attempt to give a character a sense of being unlettered it might work, yet much of the writing is layered with awkward or bad grammar, and whatever potential for lyrical or original content it might contain is lost.
Captives is also riddled with verisimilitude. This is of major concern, as many stories feel barren of authenticity of emotion and detail, which makes them one-dimensional and predictable. It’s as though Meyer hasn’t bothered to go under the meniscus of character and place, and has been content to remain skimming the surface.
A seeming inability to resist sentimentality and cliché is at the heart of the collection’s failings. “I sit at the bar, trying to own the romance of loneliness.” “I have not risen to the top, the cream of his many acquaintances.” (“Amsterdam”) “He isn’t wearing a watch, but his stomach rumbles.” (“Thirteen Tiles”) “Such thoughts I had, on that afternoon, that I began to understand what a woman in suffering might resemble.” (“Empty Cradle”)
By the end I was craving something remarkable, something edgy or unpredictable. Only the final story, about someone being electrocuted, held me captive. It concludes: “The current burnt blue-white through her muscular tissue and eight people on a passing tram saw a skeleton, reaching.” DL
Inkerman & Blunt, 112pp, $9.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 24, 2014 as "Angela Meyer, Captives". Subscribe here.